Ensuring your apartment complex is child-safe

There are simple measures which can enhance safety for children in apartment complexes. These days most developers incorporate them, but older unit blocks may require retro-fitting. The risk of falls Living in an apartment you can't just open the back door and tell the two-year-old to play within sight; it's inevitable in apartments children will be playing inside. In apartments of limited size, it's difficult for families not to have furniture pushed up against windows. Most children who fall are playing in the bedroom, climbing on the bed, or the tallboy, or chest of drawers. Children are top-heavy so when they topple they fall head-first. Around most apartments there is concrete, so when you imagine a small child going head-first onto concrete you begin to understand how serious the injuries can be. Flyscreens The biggest problem is fly screens. No fly screen can support the weight of a child. Parents don't perceive a window with a fly screen as an open window, but unless they are specifically designed they can’t even support a baby's weight. It costs just $10 to secure a window so it opens less than 10cm. And that can save a life. Ten centimetres is the width of a child's head; if they can't get their head out, they can't fall out. Rather than having individual tenants or owners do the modification, it's far better to have it coordinated by the strata manager so all apartments are brought up to scratch and there's less chance of breaching water seals. Balconies Another serious risk area is the balcony, particularly older-style balconies with plenty of things children can use to get a foothold for climbing. Strata managers can help by working with owners to implement low-cost solutions. Perspex panels to cover older-style, decorative, low balcony railings are one option; another is affixing shade cloth over climbable elements like balustrades. There are other solutions, but for price-sensitive owners corporations the cheaper options can still save lives. Pools and ponds While children love the water, it is one of Australia's leading causes of death in young children. But if you think because your properties don't have pools in the common area you don't need to worry, think again. Even small bodies of water can pose a serious risk to young children. It has happened that children have drowned in the family pet's dog bowl! So that attractive water feature that the residents love is as much of a potential risk, if not protected, as the swimming pool. When it comes to ponds, make sure there is a barrier to prevent small children accessing the water. You can't actively supervise all the children who come through the properties you manage, but you can make sure you remove some of the serious risks to help prevent a tragedy. By law pools need to be fenced and secured. However, the pool fence and latch should also be regularly inspected. Getting an expert in to check the health of the fence doesn't cost much but it can alert you to problems that aren't obvious. Small children are curious; if the gate's self-closing and self-latching mechanism has rusted, or if a paling is loose, they'll find it. The other major issue is what you have around the fence. Of course owners want the property to be well landscaped, but trellis, pot plants, garden furniture and rocks can provide great footholds for children who are keen to get into the water. Just like balconies, all these items need to be moved away from near the fence. Light-weight garden furniture should be secured to the ground to make sure children can’t drag it closer. Make sure the pool has a current, legible cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) poster within easy eyesight of the water. Should the worst happen, giving people access to that information could literally make the difference between life and death. Resources Kids Health The health promotion unit of The Children's Hospital at Westmead, NSW, offers brochures, fact sheets and posters on child safety in residential buildings. Ref: Strata Community Aust

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